Dance will bring you healing and joy

Mary Qiriaqi, right, holds a dance and exercise class Moves to Music on Ilsham Valley during lockdown.

A dance and exercise class on Ilsham Valley during lockdown. - Credit: Paul Levie/ TORBAY NEWS AGENCY

As a child I adored Monday evening ballet classes at Torbay School of Dance in Paignton.

I loved the room the classes were held in, with it’s huge window overlooking the pretty front garden.

I loved the exotic sounding French words, the music, the movement, the fun of learning in a group, the reassuring rhythm of repetition.

I remember a primary school friend’s birthday party, held in one of the hotels on Paignton seafront.

I can still recall the feeling of joy, dancing so freely to ‘Frankie’ by Sister Sledge and ‘Cherish’ by Kool and The Gang in my peppermint green jumpsuit.

Apparently once, aged about three, I wandered off in an electronics shop in Paignton, only to be found alone, in the audio section, happily dancing, lost in my own little world.

By the time I left home for university, dancing had become something that friends only did on nights out, and at parties.

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Some of my friends would only want to get onto the dance floor after a few drinks, but I could spend all evening there. Dancing is liberating, and life giving, and so much fun.

As I’m sure is the case for so many people, as time went on I only danced at weddings, and as time went on still further, those became less frequent.

When I travelled to India in 2015 to stay in a home for challenged young women, one of the first things we all did together was dance.

Soon we were singing and dancing every day, and I saw the same joy I had long forgotten reflected back to me on their faces.

When I watch my beloved nieces dancing, it’s like stepping back in time.

I took up drum lessons in 2018. Something perhaps in my muscle memory, and certainly in my heart, came back to life.

My drum teacher, James Sharp, told me that drum music is called choreography, and I realised that I hadn’t had to move to music in such a coordinated and disciplined way since those ballet classes so many moons ago. 

It’s clear to me that my love of yoga is partly born out of the similarities between it and ballet practice: the fluid movement, the discipline, the stretching and breathing.

There are big differences too, but the repetition and the benefits that a regular practice of set movements can bring to body and mind are definitely comparable. 

Now, I dance a lot, just at home, with whatever music feels good to me in the moment.

It might only be for the length of a song, or even for less time than that, but however long the dancing lasts, it almost always results in a smile and a rush of energy that lifts me.

On days when I can’t bring myself to move, watching videos of the girls I love dancing or films that have dance routines in them brings healing to my heart.

Dancing has proven health benefits including increased muscular strength, reduced risk of osteoporosis, improved coordination and balance and of course psychological wellbeing.

It’s a great way to keep fit while having fun, which is probably why Zumba has become so popular in recent years.

I went to a class with a friend before lockdown last year, and loved it.

So, why not put on some music this weekend and just start moving, however your body feels it wants to.

You might just connect with a part of yourself that will bring you a great deal of healing and joy.